The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is gearing up for what it is expecting to be a "surprising election."
Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue vowed his group would be even more engaged in 2012 than it was in 2010, but declined to say exactly how much money the Chamber plans to spend.
So far, the campaign finance reports show that the Chamber has spent $3.4 million on the 2012 election.
In 2010, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a non-profit business association, spent nearly $33 million on federal elections. [Opinion: World's Highest Corporate Tax Rate Hurts U.S. Economically]
"Some people think that was a profound number in the past, Donohue said during a breakfast meeting with reporters Monday. "I would say this is a more important election."
In preparation for the competitive Senate and House races across the country, the Chamber is prepared to use an innovative social media strategy that includes a lot of YouTube videos, but also doesn't back away from millions in television ad buys.
Unlike some groups that will throw nickels and dimes at any candidate who support its mission, the U.S, Chamber of Commerce is targeting a few carefully selected races.
"Remember the one thing the Chamber doesn't do, we don't do peanut butter deals," Donohue says. "We endorse a lot of people, but we don't spread whatever amount of money we are going to have across everybody who is running. We pick the key races."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce unleashed a preview of its aggressive voter education campaign when it launched its ad blitz in February, the earliest the organization has ever done so. The series of ads ran in 12 congressional districts and 8 states with competitive Senate races.
"We're engaging earlier and more aggressively than ever to educate constituents about which leaders recognize the role free enterprise plays in leading our economic recovery," Donohue said in a statement at the time of the ad campaign. "It comes down to a simple question: 'Is big government or free enterprise the solution to our country's economic problems?' "
The series included one ad supporting former Republican Hawaii Gov. Laura Lingle and others against Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and others.
But the Chamber is engaged locally as well as on the airwaves.
"It is not just ads, which everybody fixates on," says J. Bruce Josten, the Executive Vice President and Government Affairs for the Chamber. "There is a lot of activity on the ground. We have more activities in state and metro chambers." [Read: Obama Campaign Uses Conservative Blitz to Raise Money.]
Rolling out its campaign early, however, has led the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to bob and weave a bit as its adjusted to redrawn congressional districts and retiring legislators.
"We are working very hard to stay ahead of the curve and it's not easy," Donohue says.
Another major obstacle for the Chamber has been a court ruling it is actively fighting that could require the organization to disclose its donors, something the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says would deter donors from giving to its cause.
"The amount of money we spend by the way is triggered in part by how much money we raise," Donohue says. "And that is why we are having these other conversations over here about what people are trying to do to make it more difficult to raise it."
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